The Andromeda Strain (film)
|The Andromeda Strain|
|Directed by||Robert Wise|
|Screenplay by||Nelson Gidding|
|Story by||Nelson Gidding|
|Based on||The Andromeda Strain|
by Michael Crichton
|Produced by||Robert Wise|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Music by||Gil Mellé|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$12.4 million|
The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science fiction thriller film produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name and adapted by Nelson Gidding, the film stars Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne as a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. With a few exceptions, the film follows the book closely. The special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull. The film is notable for its use of split screen in certain scenes.
The story unfolds in flashback, told by Dr. Jeremy Stone as he testifies before the United States Senate Committee on Space Sciences in 1971:
After a U.S. government satellite crashes near the small rural town of Piedmont, New Mexico on February 5, nearly all the residents are dead. A military recovery team from Vandenberg Air Force Base tries to recover the satellite but is unsuccessful. Suspecting that the satellite has brought back an alien organism, the military activates an elite team of scientists.
Wearing protective suits, Dr. Stone, the team leader, and Dr. Mark Hall, a surgeon, are dropped into Piedmont by helicopter. They discover the town's doctor opened the satellite in his office and that all of his blood has crystallized into a powder. They soon discover that almost all of the town's victims' blood has crystallized, causing rapid death. Two other townspeople have committed suicide after going insane. Stone and Hall retrieve the satellite and find two survivors, a 69-year-old alcoholic man named Peter Jackson and a six-month-old crying infant, Manuel Rios.
In addition to Stone and Hall, the elite team also includes Dr. Charles Dutton and Dr. Ruth Leavitt, who are summoned to a top-secret Nevada underground facility, code named Wildfire. Upon arrival, they undergo extreme decontamination procedures, descending through four disinfection levels to a fifth level where laboratories are located. This underground lab complex has sophisticated technology, including CRT computer displays and lasers. If the organism threatens to escape, the Wildfire facility includes an automatic nuclear self-destruct mechanism to incinerate all infectious agents. Under the "odd man hypothesis", Dr. Hall is entrusted with the only key that can deactivate the device, the theory being that an unmarried male is the most dispassionate person within a group to make critical decisions in a crisis.
By examining the satellite with powerful cameras, the team discovers the microscopic alien organism causing the deaths in New Mexico. The greenish, throbbing life form is assigned the code name "Andromeda." Inhaled through the lungs, Andromeda kills biological life almost instantly via a blood clot in the brain and blood clotting causing asphyxiation. It appears to be highly virulent. The team studies the organism using animal subjects, an electron microscope, and culturing in various growth media in an attempt to learn how it behaves. The microbe contains chemical elements required for terrestrial life (hydrogen and carbon) and appears to have a crystalline structure, but lacks the DNA, RNA, proteins, and amino acids present in all forms of terrestrial life, and directly transforms energy to matter with no discernible byproducts. Hall tries to determine why the two Piedmont residents survived.
A military jet crashes near Piedmont after the pilot radios that his plastic oxygen mask is dissolving. Meanwhile, Dr. Stone, who created the Wildfire laboratory, is accused by Dutton and Leavitt of designing the lab for biological warfare research. Unknown to other team members, Leavitt's research on the germ is impaired by her undisclosed epilepsy.
Hall realizes that the alcoholic Jackson survived because his blood was acidic from drinking Sterno, and that the baby lived due to his blood being too alkaline from constant crying, suggesting that the organism, Andromeda, can survive only within a narrow range of blood pH. Just as he has this insight, the organism mutates into a non-lethal form that degrades synthetic rubber and plastics. Andromeda escapes the containment room into the lab where Dutton is working. Once all the laboratory's seals start decaying due to Andromeda's escape, a five-minute countdown to nuclear destruction is initiated.
Hall rescues Leavitt from an epileptic seizure, triggered by the flashing red lights of Wildfire's alarm system. Meanwhile, the team realizes that the microbe would thrive on the energy of a nuclear explosion and would consequently be transformed into a super-colony that could destroy all life on Earth. Hall races against the laboratory's automated defenses to reach a station where he can disable the nuclear bomb with his key. He endures multiple attacks by automated lasers as he climbs through the laboratory's central core. He finds a working station, disables the bomb with seconds to spare, and collapses.
Hall awakens in a hospital. His colleagues reveal that clouds are being seeded over the Pacific Ocean, which will cause rain to sweep Andromeda from the atmosphere and into alkaline seawater, rendering it harmless. Stone finishes testifying to a U.S. senator by saying that while they were able to defeat the alien pathogen, they may be unable to do so in the future. The film ends with a computer feed suddenly stopping and the computer flashing the number "601", the Wildfire code for information coming in too fast to analyze.
- Arthur Hill as Dr. Jeremy Stone
- James Olson as Dr. Mark Hall
- David Wayne as Dr. Charles Dutton
- Kate Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt
- Paula Kelly as Karen Anson (nurse, laboratory technician)
- George Mitchell as Mr. Peter Jackson (Piedmont)
- Mark Jenkins as Lt. Shawn (Piedmont Team)
- Peter Helm as Sgt. Crane (Piedmont Team)
- Joe Di Reda as Sgt. Burk (Wildfire Computer Technician)
- Ramon Bieri as Major Arthur Manchek (Scoop Mission Control)
- Carl Reindel as Lt. Comroe (Scoop Mission Control)
- Frances Reid as Clara Dutton
- Peter Hobbs as General Sparks
- Kermit Murdock as Dr. Robertson (White House Science Advisor)
- Richard O'Brien as Grimes
- Eric Christmas as Senator Phillips (Vermont)
- Ken Swofford as Toby (Technician)
- John Carter as Capt. Morton (military police)
- Richard Bull as Air Force Major
- James W. Gavin as Dempsey (helicopter pilot) (uncredited)
- Garry Walberg as a scientist (uncredited)
- Emory Parnell as Pete "Old Doughboy" Arnold (uncredited)
- Georgia Schmidt as Old Lady (Piedmont) (uncredited)
- Victoria Paige Meyerink as Additional Character
- Don Messick as Alarm Voice
- Michael Crichton makes a cameo appearance in a non-speaking role during the scene where Dr. Hall is told to break scrub, because he has to report to the Wildfire research facility.
Film rights were bought by Universal for $250,000 in 1969. The cast of characters in the novel was modified for the film, including by replacing the male Dr. Peter Leavitt in the novel with the female Dr. Ruth Leavitt. Screenwriter Nelson Gidding suggested the change to Wise, who at first was not enthusiastic, as he initially pictured the female Dr. Leavitt as a largely decorative character reminiscent of Raquel Welch's character in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. When Gidding explained his take on Leavitt, Wise resolved the question by asking the opinion of a number of scientists, who were unanimously enthusiastic about the idea. Eventually Wise came to be very happy with the decision to make Leavitt female, feeling that Kate Reid's Dr. Leavitt was "the most interesting character" in the film. Another minor change was the character of Burton in the novel, who became Charles Dutton in the film; no reason was given for this name change.
The Andromeda Strain was one of the first films to use advanced computerized photographic visual effects, with work by Douglas Trumbull, who had pioneered effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with James Shourt and Albert Whitlock who worked on The Birds. Reportedly $250,000 of the film's budget of $6.5 million was used to create the special effects, including Trumbull's simulation of an electron microscope.
The film contained a faux computer rendering, created with conventional film-making processes, of a mapped 3-D view of the rotating structure of the five-story cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire. The filming in the fictional town of Piedmont took place in Shafter, Texas, while other filming was conducted at Ocotillo Wells, California.
The Andromeda Strain was a box office success. Produced on a relatively high budget of $6.5 million, the film grossed $12,376,563 in North America, earning $8.2 million in United States theatrical rentals. It was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1971.
The opinion of critics is generally mixed, with some critics enjoying the film for its dedication to the original novel and with others disliking it for its drawn-out plot. At review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 67% approval rating based on 39 reviews, with an average score of 6.3/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Although its urgent subject matter warrants less a deliberate pace, The Andromeda Strain brings Michael Crichton's techno-thriller to the big screen with striking intelligence and an engrossing sense of paranoia." Roger Greenspun of The New York Times panned the film in the 22 March 1971 issue, calling the novel "dreadful." John Simon called The Andromeda Strain "a tidy film, yet it completely fades from memory after its 130 minutes are over."
A 2003 publication by the Infectious Diseases Society of America noted that The Andromeda Strain is the "most significant, scientifically accurate, and prototypic of all films of this [killer virus] genre ... it accurately details the appearance of a deadly agent, its impact, and the efforts at containing it, and, finally, the work-up on its identification and clarification on why certain persons are immune to it."
Awards and honors
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:
- Best Art Direction (Boris Leven, William H. Tuntke, Ruby R. Levitt); lost to Nicholas and Alexandra
- Best Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore, John W. Holmes); lost to The French Connection
The film was nominated for science fiction's 1972 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (for works appearing in calendar year 1971)
- List of American films of 1971
- The Andromeda Strain, a 2008 television miniseries adaptation of the same novel
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- Greatest Visual and Special Effects — Milestones in Film. Archived June 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
- Browning, Norma Lee (August 30, 1970). "Hollywood Today: Mike Crichton, a Skyscraper in Any Form". Chicago Tribune. pp. 10–2. Archived from the original on February 21, 2020. Retrieved February 21, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
The picture, budgeted at $6 million...
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- Top Grossing Films of 1971. Archived September 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Listal.com
- The Andromeda Strain at Rotten Tomatoes
- Greenspun, Roger (March 22, 1971). "Screen: Wise's 'Andromeda Strain'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 29, 2020. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
- Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Films. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 35. ISBN 9780517544716.
- Pappas, G.; Seitaridis, S.; Akritidis, N.; Tsianos, E. (2003). "Infectious Diseases in Cinema: Virus Hunters and Killer Microbes". Clinical Infectious Diseases. 37 (7): 939–942. doi:10.1086/377740. PMID 13130406.
- Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 17–18.